The Top 8 finalists on The X Factor tackled chart-topping songs Wednesday, knowing that Thursday they'll face another double elimination on Fox's singing show. With only a fraction of a percent separating the Top 4 contestants after last week's show, the competition is getting fierce.
Also getting fierce? The banter between judges Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato, with Lovato not responding well to Cowell's criticisms of her contestants, and chiding him about everything from his age to his bachelor status. Cowell responded by telling the 20-year-old that he had sold more than 300 million records in his career. (Snap!)
By necessity, as the number of contestants is shrinking, the show is starting to focus more on the backstage relationships between the coaches and their mentees — making for some interesting moments. But obviously what matters most is what the singers do when they get on stage. Here's a breakdown of Wednesday night's performances:
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The Teens, mentored by Britney Spears
Diamond White: White moved away from the ballads and performed a more up-tempo song this week — Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." It was a wise choice for the 13-year-old, who skipped around the stage beaming during the performance and genuinely looked like she was having a good time throughout. Cowell said as much in his feedback, though Reid and Lovato said she could have brought a little more to the delivery.
Carly Rose Sonenclar: Spears, in her introduction, referred to Sonenclar as "the little girl with the big voice," and that pretty much sums it up. The 13-year-old wowed the crowd once again, making her pitch-perfect rendition of Adele's "Rollin' in the Deep" look absolutely effortless. Reid and Lovato, in the behind-the-scenes footage, said they hoped Spears and Sonenclar would "get it wrong" one week so that their contestants would actually have a shot at unseating the current frontrunner. Sorry, guys — it's not looking likely. Cowell said the song progressed from "good" to "sensational," and even Reid himself had to admit, "That wasn't your very best performance, but even your second best is better than everybody else's first best."
The Over 25s, mentored by L.A. Reid
Vino Alan: Reid said Alan had been struggling with "complacency" after finishing in third place week after week, which created some tension between mentor and protégé throughout the week, according to the behind-the-scenes footage. Alan's soulful rendition of The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" was anything but complacent, but it did little to sway the judges. Spears and Lovato both said the performance was boring, and Cowell told Reid flat out, "You took a risk and it didn't work."
Tate Stevens: Stevens, who fell from the top spot to No. 2 last week, gave his most upbeat performance thus far in the competition, playing guitar as he sang Keith Urban's "Somebody Like You." The judges ate it up (mostly), with Spears calling him "brilliant" and predicting that he'll win a Country Music Award one day. Cowell advised Stevens to not dance in future performances, but still complimented the song choice and vocal delivery. Will it be enough to bring Stevens back to No. 1?
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The Young Adults, mentored by Demi Lovato
Paige Thomas: Thomas delivered a tapered-down version of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," a detailed production number that the behind-the-scenes footage indicated was her choice, going against Lovato's advice that she should focus on a straightforward vocal performance (though Lovato later said they came to the decision together). Thomas' instinct ended up paying off and left all the judges gushing. Reid told her it was her "very best performance yet," and Spears and Cowell saying it was well worth the risk. "This is the first time you have looked and sounded like a legitimate pop star," Cowell told her. "You definitely have got to make more decisions going forward."
CeCe Frey: Frey, who's perpetually found herself in the bottom two, faced pressure to deliver another comeback song Wednesday with "Lady Marmalade." Frey's biggest problem (aside from sometimes coming across as unlikeable) is that she misses as many notes as she hits, and that didn't change this time around. Spears conceded that she had "stepped it up a notch," but that wasn't enough to garner support from Reid or Cowell. Reid told her she was "going down fighting," but still going down, and Cowell put it a little more bluntly: "My advice tonight is, pack a suitcase."
The Groups, mentored by Simon Cowell
Fifth Harmony: Spurred on by the memory of one of the ladies' (seriously, still can't tell them apart) grandfathers, who passed away this week, the quintet delivered a blistering performance of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." Simon said before the performance that the group was gaining quite a following. But that's not the case at the judges' table. Reid said they struggled with their harmonies (ironic!) and Lovato had a problem with the choreography — or lack thereof. "It was awkward watching you guys just stand there to an upbeat song," she told them.
Emblem 3: The all-male trio has definitely cornered the heartthrob vote, getting recognized and literally chased around by young girls in public. But can their singing live up to the hype? Paying tribute to their boy band forefathers, the group offered a bouncy take on The Monkees' "I'm a Believer," and while the guys are far from the best singers in the competition, they definitely have the highest energy and strongest audience appeal. (After all, this isn't The Voice.) Reid said he'd sign them in an instant, and while Lovato — perhaps just to get in a dig at Cowell — claimed their act was becoming predictable, Cowell himself told them, "You guys have turned into real pop stars."
The X Factor returns Thursday at 9/8c, with another double elimination, plus performances from Alicia Keys and last season's finalist Josh Krajcik. Who do you think will land in the Top 6?